Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Product: U-No-LX Softsynth
Developer: Togu Audio Line
Format: Windows (32 & 64 bit VST) and Mac (32 & 64-bit VST and AU)
Demo: Downloadable demo (saving disabled)
Price: $35 introductory price, $70 regularly
Togu Audio Line (also known by the catchier moniker TAL) have made quite an impact in the past few years with their well-regarded line of freeware synths and effects. Amid the company's incredible generosity over the years was speculation among users about what the company could produce if they did a commercial release. The answer came this week in the form of U-NO-LX, a ground-up recoding of their freeware U-NO-62 synth.
WHAT IS IT?
U-NO-LX is an emulation of the venerable Roland-60 synth with a few features not found on the original.
Installation comes via a standard installer. Right off the bat, the synth will run in demo mode, which is fully functional, but doesn't allow you to save patches. To register, you simply select REGISTER PLUGIN... and enter your serial number. Boom, you're done.
Documentation comes in the form of an 18-page PDF file (which you can read here). Everything is neatly laid out and easy to follow, but honestly, if you're familiar with subtractive synthesis, you probably won't need it. This is a very easy to figure out synth.
U-NO-LX is basically laid out in three panels. The topmost row consist of the oscillator and filter sections, which follow the Juno-60 architecture faithfully. There is only one DCO, but true to early Roland designs, it allows you to combine different amounts of Saw and variable-width Pulse with an additional SUB oscillator (squarewave only) and WHITE NOISE source, so you can vary the basic timbre of your sounds quite a bit despite the one oscillator limitation.
The emulated VCF is preceded by a non-resonant HIGHPASS FILTER that can be used to thin out the bottom end for certain types of bell, synth, and string sounds. The VCF itself is your standard variety LOWPASS FILTER with FILTER (aka CUTOFF) and RESONANCE controls and sliders for filter modulation via LFO, KEYboard position, and the ENVelope (the latter can switch polarity).
The second row consists of master TUNE, LEVEL, and OCTAVE TRANSPOSE settings, the synth's sole ADSR envelope (the amp level can also be set to a simple GATE trigger), the synth's sole LFO (with RATE, DELAY TIME, TRIGGER MODE -including SYNC), and buttons to turn on either, both, or neither of the synth's built-in CHORUS effects. Roland was renowned for the quality of their 80's chorus units, so it plays an important part in the Juno-60's sound. I'm happy to say, TAL nailed it here and the choruses sound fantastic.
The bottom row consists of a CONTROL section (housing KEY TRANSPOSE, MAX POLY- up to 12 voices, MIDI LEARN, PANIC, and a manual LFO control for triggering the LFO with the press of a button). Next door to that, you'll find the PORTAMENTO controls with adjustable mode and speeds, a VERY simple mod set-up that allows you to assign DCO and FILTER mod on the modwheel, and velocity control for the ENV strength and VOLUME.
Finally, there is an ARPEGGIATOR that can be synced or free-running, variable modes, octave spans, and tempo.
I'll preface this by saying, I've never owned a Juno-60, so I was not able to A/B this softsynth with its hardware inspiration, but you'll find audio comparisons on the product page that demonstrate it does a damn good job. I am familiar with the sound of the Juno-60 on at least a superficial level and to my ears, U-NO-LX sounds like a Juno without question. In the context of a mix, I'd go so far to say that for most applications, the two would be more or less indistinguishable. TAL has even converted the Juno-60 factory sounds and included them in a bank here.
The improvements to the sound quality over the free version are subtle, but noticeable. The oscillators are now alias-free, and the filter sounds more authentic, especially in sounds that make use of resonance. Additional features such as portamento and the arpeggiator expand nicely on what the freeware version offered. For me personally, the upgraded GUI is worthy of upgrading in itself. Very clean and easy to follow.
I'm sure TAL knew that as soon as this was released, the demand for new features would start almost immediately, and indeed, there is room for expansion here if that's the direction the company wants to go (versus being more faithful to the original). A unison mode would be nice (although using PWM and the chorus effects, you can get surprisingly thick textures from this as-is), as would a more extensive mod matrix. I wouldn't mind seeing an additional LFO and ENV, too. U-NO-LX is a fantastic emulation and a wonderfully simple synth as it is, but the excitement of playing with it only serves to trigger those "what if" fantasies of what future updates could include. It's safe to say, that even without those fantasy features, this synth exhibits a great value from an already very generous company. I urge anyone who has made use of TAL's freeware to check this out and help support them. We need more developers like this! [9/10]
EDIT: Here's a great demo of U-NO-LX done by Solidtrax: http://soundcloud.com/solidtrax/solidtrax-tal-u-no-lx-20